Kunsu SHIM: relations (1995), Chamber Piece No. 1 (1994); Burkhard SCHLOTHAUER: 64 events (1998); Manfred WERDER: bassflöte bassklarinette viola violoncello (1998); Carlo INDERHEES: ZWEIUNDZWANZIG MINUTEN (Septett)1 (1997-98). Ensemble Q - O2: Myriam Graulus (flutes), Dirk De Scheemaeker (clarinets), Lucy Graumann (alto), Micheline Dumortier (guitar), Silvia Tentori Montalto (violin), Julia Eckhardt (viola), Gabriella Strümpel (cello). Edition Wandelweiser Records EWR 0104 (http://www.timescraper.de/).
More notes do not necessarily mean better music. There’s wisdom in the cliché that less is more. But even less is not even more; even less can be almost nothing. NMC releases somewhat mainstream contemporary fare, but Edition Wandelweiser Records produces discs that could exasperate the most experienced and open-minded listener. Many of the composers who are represented on Wandelweiser embrace silence and tend toward sounds made by nonstandard methods of play or production. Tempos are generally slow and dynamics usually soft, and each sound is the most important event at that moment, as if there have been no sounds before and will be none to come.
Four composers who are part of the Wandelweiser group present five pieces on a disc featuring Ensemble Q - O2 (EWR 0104). The Wandelweiser group makes no apologies about the "experimental" and "radical" — words taken from the booklet — nature of this music. There are no themes or cadenzas, virtuosity is banished. The only things remaining are musicians creating sounds. Imagine the coarseness of Lachenmann combined with the wide-open spaces of Feldman. Actually, Feldman could have used some of the titles himself, and some of the works take Feldman’s gestures to an extreme of stasis.
Kunsu Shim’s relations, for violin, viola and cello, opens with silvery sul ponticello notes and stays on the edge of the barely audible. Most of the notes are harmonics or played sul ponticello, but there are a few ordinario cello notes. It’s short at 5:06 but it speaks volumes, compared to Shim’s other work on this disc. At four seconds long (yes, 0:04), Shim’s Chamber Piece No. 1 might be the shortest track on any CD. There are six credited players (voice, flute, clarinet, violin, viola and cello), though the strings are hard to hear under the two high-pitched wind notes. I don’t think Shim was trying to out-Webern Webern (actually, out-Kurtáging Kurtág is more like it). He wanted to create an intense moment of music, pregnant with expectation.
Burkhard Schlothauer, mentioned here before, is represented with 64 Events for voice and string trio. Despite the title, this is not the sort of piece that you count your way through. It opens with a throat-scarring rasp. After a pause, instruments and voice come together to make different chords and timbres. Gentle chords, rough clusters, humming sounds or single string tones are separated by wide silences. At some places, it sounds as if the performance instructions demand that a note be played as slowly as possible so that the bow’s frail quaver at absurdly slow speeds becomes part of the sound.
Manfred Werder’s composition bassflöte bassklarinette viola violoncello is similar to Schlothauer’s except the pitches occur singly, one after another. I heard no simultaneities at all. Every pitch is an oasis, and some have subtle tone changes or glissandi. If there is a tune, or if two neighboring pitches have a relationship, then I missed it. Carlo Inderhees’ ZWEIUNDZWANZIG MINUTEN is pretty much as titled. For 22 minutes seven players create short and quiet events that hover around the same chord. It’s a bit like watching paint dry as the sun sets and the room gradually grows dark.
Ensemble Q - O2 plays with flair and confidence. Hecklers would have a field day at their live performances. Ensemble Q - O2 plays music for folks who like to be challenged. On this recording, without audience noise, this music comes across very earnestly and convincingly.
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